A team of researchers led by Purdue University plant geneticist Scott Jackson have received $4.5 million to sequence one of the world's leading edible oil sources.
Used extensively in food formulations and enjoying growing popularity on the back of claimed health benefits, today soybean oil, together with palm oil, accounts for over half of all oil consumed in the world: but production vulnerability means soy prices can fluctuate dramatically.
By mapping the genome, scientists hope knowledge gained can be used to reduce the risk to crop supplies.
"When the whole genome is sequenced, researchers will be able to pick plants based on their genetic makeup that are resistant to such things as drought, sudden death syndrome, soybean rust and other factors that negatively impact soybean production," say the researchers.
The move to track the soybean genome follows on the heels of the rice and wheat genome.
Earlier this year, the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project completed the sequence for the genome, finding it consists of around 400 million DNA bases, holding 37,544 genes on rice's 12 chromosomes.
And in June this year US scientists at Kansas State University kicked off a new project to sequence the common (hexaploid) wheat genome.
For the soybean research, scientists will locate the genes on the soybean chromosomes in order to create a physical map.
Funding from the United Soybean Board enabled Jackson's research team to turn the soybean genome into a giant jigsaw puzzle so small bits could be prepared for sequencing, which is the determination of the order of the base pairs that comprise DNA.
Because of the technology used for sequencing, the genome had to be broken down into tens of thousands of smaller pieces that are then cloned before each piece can be sequenced.
Integrating the physical map with the parts of the genetic map already available eventually will allow sequencing of the entire soybean genome.
"The long-term goal of this grant is to assemble those pieces back into the whole genome," Jackson said. "We have a whole freezer full of these little pieces. The preliminary sequencing that we're doing now is just to get an idea of the gene landscape."
The soybean has many duplications of DNA in its genome, so Jackson and his collaborators are targeting five regions that have structural duplications to determine the functional similarities of each region.
They will also compare gene function in those duplicated areas.
Understanding how the soybean duplications evolved will ease the task of sequencing the soybean genome and also give the scientists information about the plant's structural evolution.
The US is the number one global producer of soybeans, producing more than 2.74 billion bushels annually and pulling in $15.1 billion worth of business into the country.